By Mayen Jaymalin, Marvin Sy, Pia Lee-Brago, Rudy Santos (The Philippine Star), Feb 22, 2018
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has recalled two more labor officials assigned in Kuwait for failing to take immediate and appropriate action on the case of slain Filipina domestic helper Joanna Demafelis.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III ordered the immediate recall of labor attaché to Kuwait Alejandro Padaen and assistant labor attaché Lily Pearl Guerrero.
“There was no effort on their part to locate Demafelis when she was reported missing in early 2017,” Bello said.
Last week, Bello also ordered the recall of Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA) welfare officer Sarah Concepcion, also for negligence concerning the case of Demafelis.
OWWA chief Hans Cacdac said aside from being recalled from the Kuwait post, Concepcion will also face disciplinary proceedings upon her return to the country within the week.
“Further investigation will be conducted and the first step is for her to face disciplinary proceedings. We do not want to speculate, but appropriate action will be taken based on the results of the investigation,” Cacdac said.
On the other hand, five personnel of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) are facing charges and possible dismissal from government service for allegedly engaging in illegal recruitment.
POEA chief Bernard Olalia said he has recommended the filing of appropriate charges against POEA evaluators identified as Florence Medina, Jerome Sousa, Gretchen Casilang, Renegold Macarulay and Rosalina Rosales.
“We have uncovered that they engaged in irregularities, specifically deploying Balik Manggagawa (BM) workers who are not qualified because they are actually first timers,” Olalia said.
Olalia also ordered the immediate suspension of the five POEA personnel.
He said the investigation into the involvement of POEA personnel in illegal recruitment activities is continuing even after the filing of charges against five of their employees.
Last year, Bello ordered the suspension of the processing and issuance of overseas employment certificates (OECs) to stop illegal recruitment activities within the POEA.
At a press conference yesterday, Olalia also announced the POEA has stopped 11 recruitment agencies from deploying Filipino workers to Kuwait.
The POEA has cancelled the license of Al Bayan International Manpower Services Co., Bumiputra Co. Inc., Gold Fortune Human Resources Corp., LFC International Human Resources, Aisis International Manpower Inc., Great World International Management Inc., Global Gaye International Manpower Services Inc., MMML Recruitment Services Inc., SML Human Resources Inc. and Best Migrant International Manpower Services Inc.
The POEA also suspended the license of NRS Placement Inc., Olalia said.
The 11 agencies were found to have committed recruitment violations, including failure to ensure good working conditions for workers they deployed to Kuwait.
Olalia said POEA is fast tracking the resolution of pending cases of recruitment violations against recruitment agencies deploying Filipino workers to Kuwait.
The Philippine government is looking into the case of another Filipina domestic helper, Norisa Manambit, who is now in coma at a hospital in Kuwait, Cacdac added.
Manambit used to work as domestic helper in Saudi Arabia and Cacdac said the Philippine government is still investigating how she ended up in a coma at a Kuwaiti hospital.
Bello said the government has started limiting the number of Filipino domestic helpers deployed to Middle East in a bid to curb the rising incidence of abuses.
Bello assured the public the government is not taking the case of Demafelis sitting down and appropriate measures are being undertaken to prevent similar tragedy from happening again.
He said DOLE is declaring war against the abuse of OFWs with the battle cry “Never Again.”
Senators, however, chastised labor officials for failing to do anything to prevent the abuses committed against Filipino workers in Kuwait amid reports of 196 deaths in the country in the past three years.
During yesterday’s hearing at the Senate, OWWA administrator Cacdac revealed the significant increase in the number of deaths of Filipino workers in Kuwait last year.
The labor officials were aware of the abuses committed against Filipino workers in Kuwait but admitted difficulty in securing the cooperation of Kuwaiti officials to implement stronger measures to protect the workers.
Bello said a draft memorandum of understanding on the protection of migrant workers was provided to Kuwait more than two years ago but they have declined to sign the document.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella added the problem in Kuwait is deep-seated and no immediate solution is in sight to address the concerns.
Abella said over 6,000 cases of abuses committed against Filipino workers in Kuwait were reported in 2017.
Sen. Joel Villanueva, the chairman of the committee, lamented that in spite of the numerous red flags with regard to the treatment of migrant workers in Kuwait, the POEA did not impose a ban on deployment earlier.
Villanueva noted how migrant workers experience “very different and difficult working conditions” in Kuwait under the so-called kafala or sponsorship system.
He said the kafala system has facilitated the abusive practice of altering the terms of employment of migrant workers or taking their passports and identifications as leverage.
“Why did the DOLE not impose the ban sooner, considering the increasing number of deaths reported – from 82 in 2016 to 103 in 2017, not to mention the 1,447 cases of maltreatment, 2,959 cases of contract violation, 227 sexual abuses and 63 cases of rape of Filipino workers for just a period of one year from 2016?” Villanueva asked.
He pointed out Kuwait has not ratified and is not a signatory of any conventions pertaining to the protection of migrant workers, primarily the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189 on domestic workers’ protection, the 2003 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the 1975 Convention concerning Migrations in Abusive Conditions and the Promotions of Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Migrant Workers.
Abella said the working conditions of domestic workers under the kafala system could be likened to slave labor.
Sen. Franklin Drilon questioned why the POEA governing board, which is mandated to review the conditions in the receiving countries and impose a ban as necessary, did not take any action on Kuwait in spite of the reported abuses.
“The government should mull over the ways for full and strict implementation of our labor laws. The full implementation of our labor laws would have prevented, or at least minimized, the number of deaths of overseas Filipino workers,” Drilon said.
Drilon said there are numerous laws protecting the rights of OFWs “but implementation is lacking.”
He cited the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act (RA 8042 as amended by RA 10022), which provides for the protection of Filipinos abroad.
“Had this particular provision of the law been strictly implemented, maybe the 185 deaths of OFWs (in 2016 and 2017) would not have happened,” Drilon said.
Labor officials said a technical working group is working on forging with the Kuwaiti government an agreement ensuring protection and welfare of Filipino workers in the Arab country.
This developed as Kuwait announced yesterday a two-month extension of its amnesty program for overstaying Filipino workers.
The Philippines asked Kuwait to extend the amnesty program to allow it to accommodate more workers who want to go home.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano formally conveyed last week the extension request to Kuwaiti Ambassador Mousaed Al-Thwaikh during a meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
In a report to Cayetano, Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa said the amnesty program, which allows undocumented Filipino workers to process the necessary documents for work without incurring any penalties, was extended by two months until April 22. The amnesty was supposed to end yesterday.
The Philippine government requested the extension to allow its embassy in Kuwait to accommodate more of the 10,800 Filipinos believed to have overstayed their visas or had run away from their employers. Some 3,000 of those qualified have applied so far.
Bello said the extension of the amnesty is an indication that President Duterte’s decision to declare a total deployment ban in Kuwait is working positively in favor of the Philippine government.
On the proposed agreement, Labor Undersecretary Claro Arellano said they are awaiting the response from their Kuwaiti counterpart on their request to hold the discussion on the agreement in Manila.
“Hopefully we will be able to finalize the agreement and have it signed by early or middle of March, Arellano said.
Bello said the signing of the agreement will not automatically lead to the lifting of the total deployment ban, but he expressed hope it will pave the way for the resumption of sending of Filipino workers to Kuwait.
Upon the orders of President Duterte, DOLE imposed a total deployment ban after the body of Demafelis was found inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait.
Initial investigation showed Demafelis was tortured before she was killed.
Following the imposition of the total ban deployment, hundreds of OFWs have returned from Kuwait.
President Duterte had said the government may also stop deployment to other countries due to abuses being committed against Filipino workers.
Bello, however, said they are not inclined to support the ban at this time.
The recruitment industry cautioned the government against expanding the deployment ban to other countries.
Recruitment leaders said the deployment ban will not only lead to economic losses, but also damage friendly relations with Saudi Arabia and other countries. –